If you look through the St Colm’s Draperstown prospectus it’s impossible not to notice a group photo of one of their sporting teams at Cookstown’s Mid Ulster Sports Arena celebrating success. The emotion and joy is there for all to see. Happy children are an important component of any successful school.
On the previous double page spread there is a section entitled ‘beyond the classroom’ depicting all the extra-curricular activities on offer at St Colm’s. In the school, study is fundamental and last term Barry Grant left the school with three A* Grades, is currently now studying accountancy but he was also able pick up an Ulster title with Derry minors. With time management, commitment and hard work it can be done.
Their school mission statement is ‘Believe and Achieve’ and despite trailing reigning champions Clady going into stoppage time in last month’s Derry U16 final Ciaran Meenagh’s young charges must have still believed. They never gave up hope and when Noel Rafferty hit the net with the last kick they certainly achieved.
There are more tales of this as and we caught up with ‘Mr Meenagh’ who gave us an insight into the sporting life in St Colm’s. He may be from Loughmacrory and a Tyrone All-Ireland medal winner but after thirteen years he is very much part of the furniture at the foot of the Sperrins.
He is the first to acknowledge the support he has in the school. “When I arrived here Paul McCaffrey was helping me but Benny Heron is a massive addition to the school this year and is a fantastic role model for the boys. Fiona [Devlin] is very well assisted by Patsy McElwee with Camogie and Sheilah Molloy with the ladies football. Also Philomena Cassidy in the school office is a tremendous help and gives us great support.”
In many ways those involved in school coaching are only topping up what players have picked up with their club, a point not lost on Meenagh. “In terms of facilities and moral support both Ballinascreen and Desertmartin are very supportive. However, most importantly they are bedrocks where the pupils learn their trade and are a key factor in our schools success and rich sporting tradition.”
Some of these people from the local club have gone on to represent their county and have been great ambassadors for the school. “In football we had Tony Scullion, Benny Murray and John Francis Bradley. Current Derry Hurlers Paul Cleary and Aaron Kelly are recent past pupils and Barry Grant and Conor McGovern were on last year’s Ulster Minor winning team.”
It may be a strange question for a Tyrone man but when asked about how the school contributes to GAA in the county but he pointed out their inclusiveness. “We work really hard to provide Gaelic Games to all our pupils. We are reluctant to pick panels and children who would otherwise maybe not participate at some of the bigger schools see action and develop their game at St Colm's.”
Anyone who knows Loughmacrory will know it’s background in handball, a sport Meenagh himself excelled at and this influence has followed him to Derry. “One-Wall Handball is very popular among our pupils. We have 4 official size one-walls erected in the sports hall which prove very popular each day for lunchtime activities. We also enter the provincial one-wall handball competitions in Year 9 and 11.”
With the camogie and hurling teams already competing at Ulster College level, Meenagh explains that next season the footballers will be joining as well. “We have been playing College Hurling now for five years to give the boys more competitive games. The Camogie scene has integrated under the one banner for some time now and the boy’s football will be follow suit from next year on. Therefore, from next year on we will be playing a grade of college football.”
Like any organisation, the drive will always come from the top. “We are very fortunate to have a Principal who appreciates the role GAA and sport plays in the development of our children. It is getting more and more difficult. Together with tighter financial constraints, schools are also under more pressure than ever to deliver academically and teachers have targets to meet. This leaves it more difficult to get pupils out of class as there are now more modular exams and controlled assessment tasks than ever and teachers can’t afford to have pupils out of the class too much but Mrs McKenna is very supportive of sport.”
So linking in again with the ‘Believe and Achieve’ theme we asked Meenagh what was the GAA highlight in the school to date. “It would have been our senior camogie team winning the All-Ireland C title in 2009. The boys teams have won numerous county titles in recent times, this year have won the U16 and U14 double. Personally a highlight is being involved in nine county finals at U14 and U16 level and I have yet to lose.”
On the back of Ballinascreen’s excellent underage work Meenagh also highlights the success in hurling “Our Hurling teams are one of the most successful in Vocational schools hurling and are current champions at U14 and U16 level.”
It was great to get an insight in the GAA working of St Colm’s but looking into the future is there anything he would look for? “We haven’t been able to beat the bigger vocational school teams like Holy Trinity Cookstown, St Ciaran’s Ballygawley and St Malachy’s Castlewellan who have pipped us in several semi-finals.” Perhaps that is the next step in the St Colm’s Draperstown story. You always have to keep looking forward so we’ll watch out for the progress over the next few years.
As the U14 and U16s boys plan ahead to their Ulster campaign and the 450 pupils look forward to the Christmas break you can be sure that next term the halls of St Colm’s will be full of budding young handballers. The pitches will be as busy as ever. The feeder clubs who started these children off on their GAA journey will know that in St Colm’s the association is alive and well. A happy school is always a successful one.